in

9 to 5

****
1980

‘…calls out the workplace bullies with spirit and enthusiasm…’

I was CAGED at a Dolly Parton concert. Not for any infringement on my part, but having managed to somehow convince promoters that I should be allowed access to a sold-out Dolly gig, the lack of available seats meant that I was decanted to a rigged and barred metal cage usually used for lighting and sound engineers. A closing three numbers of Jolene, 9 to 5 and I Will Always Love You made it well worth the indignity. Parton was, and still is a huge star, and her cinematic launch was a red hot hit back in 1980, a feminist comedy about office politics that was one of the year’s biggest successes.

The driving force here is Jane Fonda, who fancied taking a look at women’s issues in the modern workplace, and decided to launch as a comedy with the help of Lily Tomlin. Fonda plays Judy, a reserved housewife who works alongside Violet (Tomlin) in the office of Franklin Hart Jr (Dabney Coleman); they initially resent Doralee (Parton) because Hart has insinuated that they slept together, even though they are both married. A spare marijuana joint bonds the girls together and they each imagine a fantasy in which they get their own back on their boss, accurately termed to be  ‘a sexist, egotist, lying hypocritical bigot’ But getting ahead in the workplace proves to be more difficult than that, and after accidentally putting rat-poison in his coffee, the trio end up kidnapping him and bringing a woman’s common-sense touch to the workplace, with flexitime and creches galore.

For once, the consumption of drugs is honestly handled here, the girls chose to enjoy a smoke, and it opens their eyes to their sisterhood; not surprisingly, Ronald and Nancy Reagan hated this scene on a Just Say No basis. But although there’s a few missed swipes here, Colin Higgins’ comedy, based on a script by Patricia Resnick, generally feels like it’s got its heart in the right place. The zany, wacky idea of what would happen if women were given the chance to call the shots in the workplace, something hard to imagine even forty years later, isn’t handled for laughs, but the behaviour of the men is the subject of outright ridicule and deservedly so.

With a catchy theme song, four strong leading performances, and a hard-wired PC message about how women simply won’t accept being mistreated by men, 9 to 5 is something of a progressive work, even if some of the contrivances recall old-school farces, notably when the girls steal the wrong corpse from a hospital. But the film is personable, likable, and often funny, and although notions for remakes and reboots have fizzled, Fonda, Parton and Tomlin re-united for an awards show back in 2017 on the cusp of the MeToo movement. Shaming men by their own behaviour is the point, and the feminist first-responders featured in 9 to 5 call out their misogynist workplace bullies with infectious spirit and enthusiasm.

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  1. Were you at the Dolly concert in Manchester about 8-10 years ago? I was, having discovered my English friend was a Dolly fan and I couldn’t get her to visit me in TN 30 miles from Dollywood… this was a chick flick with a socialist edge…could have done without the Disney characters but otherwise thought it was grand, like your review. Ladies were perfection for the roles they played. Alas, we’re still reaching for glass ceilings and equality, fighting the good fight.

    • As well you should be. The Disney bit went on a bit, although all the fantasy sequences pay off in the main storyline eventually. And yes, Fonda had her own agenda, and got it out in a sweet, commercial package here, so credit to her, and all the cast….

      More importantly, about ten years ago would be right, but I saw her at the Armadillo venue in Glasgow. Would be keen to see Dollywood in it’s prime, quite something to create a theme park based on yourself, now that’s an idea for a movie…

    • Or talk about digitally removing cigarettes from old movies. Films should be of the now, and may have a different meaning in hindsight. The brief smoking of a joint here may have been problematic for tv screenings, but seems in keeping with the general anything goes feel of the movie; I guess Ronald Reagan and Nancy had their own axes to grind…

  2. I am just wondering what those people at the Parton concert were thinking. letting you OUT of the cage. Kind of feels like they failed in their sworn duty to humanity. * washes hands * Ahhh well, everyone makes huge, gigantic, earth shattering mistakes every once in a while.

    As for this movie. I’ve never seen a movie with Parton in it (that I’m aware of) and while I’m sure I’ve heard a song or two by her, I don’t know if I’ve ever actually heard her. The little bit I’ve seen of her over the years has led me to believe that she’s a classy lady.

    I am not a fan of movies that try to point out issues in a negative way, no matter how legit or how they do it. I’m much more likely to watch a movie that calls out for its audience to be inspired by the content and to emulate the main character. I also realize that not everybody responds the same way as me and that movies like this do speak to other people.

    My other issue is that I don’t think entertainment is where social issues should be addressed or changed. While it is a monstrously huge vehicle getting the most eyes and (what’s left of them) brains and it is effective, it is simply too much at the mercy of “group think” and whatever a certain subset of people (in the case of most movies, Hollywood and their ilk) happen to think at a certain time. That doesn’t mean they are automatically wrong but it means the foundation is shifting sand and very “Ethics of Today” kind of thinking. It also casts doubt on an audience that can be so easily swayed.

    Obviously, there are a lot deeper things and I’m just kind of highlighting the uppermost parts. I’m also not trying to make it sound like this is a horrible terrible evil movie meant to brain wash us all. I am just very aware of social influences and am more interested in the behind the scenes of them than what they present at face value. I’m going to stop now so I don’t keep rambling 🙂

    • No, please keep rambling, always keen to read an informed comment!

      I know you’ve asked before, and I’ve fobbed you off with some half-cooked answers, but I’ll delve a little deeper here. I’d agree with your point that Hollywood is an elite, liberally minded but also deeply hypocritical, and what passes for informed comment one day may well be idiocy by the next dawn. But I do love films, as my blog attests, and I do see them having a function for social change. Or rather, people will always consume stories, through film, theatre, literature, video games and more, so we might as well pay attention to what’s being said, even if our response is critical. Culture and the way we think are connected, whether we like it or not. And it can inspire us to new heights, and in the middle of a pandemic, might well help us find the route forward to ‘build back better’. When you have a problem, you can ask yourself; what would John Wick do?

      This particular film, 9 to 5, is a good 40 years old, but does have positive lead characters who might inspire emulation, as you term it. They see something wrong with the enviroment they’re in, and seek to change it, and both their setbacks and success are amusingly drawn. Women’s rights tend to be the least championed by culture, but this movie in particular makes a good job of highlighting the issues that a woman might have in a workplace that skews towards an old boys club. So I write about it hoping to create some debate, to remind people who know it of its content, or to bring it to the attention of generations who might not know the name. I’m not trying to tell people how or what to think, just expressing a personal point of view; film criticism is no exact science, and I’m happy to have my opinions changed by interaction with others. I love to hear what people think, even if it’s just a NOPE.

      It’s this kind of thinking that led me to be locked in a metal cage at a Dolly Parton concert, so maybe it’s not done much for me, but it’s got me this far, and I’ll keep on keeping on till the bitter end…

      • Thanks for replying at length.

        A lot of my issues arise out of the should/could dichotomy. I don’t think it should come from movies, so therefore it can’t. Obviously, that isn’t the way it works even if it is the way I wish it would 😀

        The issues I raised here weren’t with YOU or your review but with the general “get your moral compass from this movie” idea that pervades a large chunk of moviedom. We obviously differ on that and I don’t have a problem with disagreeing with you nor am I trying to force you to accept my ideas as the End of the Matter. I just want to express my opinions. Which you allow.

        Believe it or not, I am not good with conflict. Which is why I think you should STILL be locked in that cage 😀

        • So actually, we can agree. A persona has to find their own moral compass, and like history, I don’t thinlk that should come from a movie. Audiences work out what they want to take from a story or not, but I’d be wary of anyone who gets their life lessons from a commercial enterprise like film-making. There are many other routes to take…

          ..in many ways, now that I think about it, I’m still in Dolly’s cage…

          …and yes, sometimes there is conflict in the WP universe, but more often, there’s unexpected friendship. I dodn’t try and change anyone, and am happy to agree to disagree with people. The sharing of ideas is the main thing. How else would two titans of wit like you and I have crossed paths?

  3. “Feminist first responders” is a great way to put it. This is a good film that wraps a serious message in comedy so that you don’t feel like it’s preaching at you.

    • Doing a bit of reading, that seems to have been Fonda’s intention, not to preach, but to entertain while getting a message out. Maybe it’s sugar-coated with silliness, but there’s a genuine anger hidden behind the gags, and when the cast were reunited for that awards show in 2017, it was clear that they felt that the battle had just begun.

  4. Terrific film and an early attack on office bullying. Anybody who ever worked in an office saw how casually badly women were often treated, not just the regular slights but the predatory males, especially the old school who believed it was their divine right to prey on younger vulnerable women, often newcomers who were frightened that upsetting an older man could lose them their jobs. These bad attitudes could easily have been tackled in a preachy drama but the beauty of this picture is that it is a comedy and laughter seems a better way of ramming a message home. You have to go back to the MGM pictures of the 1930s to find genuine female bonding and stars who don’t get in each other’s way. I saw it recently and was surprised how well it held up.

    • Yes, and that office domination by men is something that still needs to be tackled in 2020. Just because this film is funny doesn’t mean that it’s lightweight, and you could easily update this to the modern world and still have these points hit home. It may not have changed the world, but it’s a big step forward for 1980…

  5. I’ve thought about going back to this, interested in seeing how well it stands up. I remember seeing it again around 2000 or so and found it a bit dated, but still pretty good. Are you doing the entire Charles Grodin canon?

    • I’m a Grodin fan, although he’s not in this, but Coleman does a nice job here. While some of the comedy is a little strained, I think the overall message holds up even in 2020; the problems are still there, and I felt the film still had relevance…

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